We were born in the mid-70s, at the very height of apartheid South Africa. We were born into the name, Winnie Mandela. This, for decades, was the only Mandela we knew. The only one that mattered, because she was there – in every township and genuinely loved by many. The other one, we never knew. The media never introduced us to him, as he was in prison and his images banned by the government. Her iconic status stood far taller than any other liberation struggle icon there was at the time. Her vilification by the apartheid police and politicians of the day made her even more famous among the township masses.
Yet to her death, her colourful life has been overburdened by tragedies, controversies and drama. And today with all the tsunami of information about her life, it doesn’t matter who you are, your race or age, everyone has an opinion of her.
One of the many footages we came across with earlier this week was an interview by an Italian reporter, Paolo Emilio Landi about her engagement to Madiba. She paints a picture of herself as had little to no say in their engagement, and subsequent marriage. She suggested there was no time for anything else, including their marriage, other than the struggle for liberation.
In many other material we learn, from her own mouth, how she had to endure the pain of his absence, her brutal suffering in the hands of government, how that affected the children and of course, the sustained planned smear campaigns in the media to discredit her as evil while painting Madiba into sainthood.
Mam’ Winnie suffered in her marriage in silence. She kept silent to her death – and said very little about all her stacked up pain, anger and betrayal. In her memoirs, she writes, “loneliness is worse than fear. The most wretched and painful illness the body and mind could be subjected to”.
Against this backdrop, and in her honour, we’re reminded of so many women we regularly come across in our line of work who suffer in silence in their marriages. They endure untold amount of emotional and physical abuse, betrayal and pain from men they trusted to protect them against any harm. They live secret lives marked by depression, anxiety, social phobias and other debilitating psychiatric conditions.
You’d generally notice a woman who treacherously suffers in silence through behaviours such as:
However, she keeps silent, mostly under duress, in order to protect the very man that treats her with such utter disdain – because “what goes on in this house, stays in this house”.
So she has to keep the smile at church and shopping malls. And she dares not give it away at the family gatherings, funerals and weddings because she has to go lend a hand – read slave – throughout the week in preparation. And no one will ever know, that behind her beautiful smile, are tears of shattered dreams for a life that has escaped her grasp.
The pain of a woman who suffers in silence is yet to be told in our country. Oh yes, we get shocked every now and then whenever another Karabo Mokoena is murdered in cold blood by her lover. But don’t register in our collective mind-set that every 8th hour a woman is murdered in South Africa, and four of those die at the hands of their intimate partners. And that statistic never stops after the reporting of those women, perhaps lucky enough to be published. A staggering amount of them remains unreported. When our femicide rate is five times more than the global rate, you know we have to do something, and do it very urgently.
Why you should never suffer in silence?
It prolongs your suffering
You are less likely to get the help you need if you withhold vital information, such as symptoms or concerns.
It highlights your isolation
Secluding yourself from those who can help you may be your preference but it is not in your best interest.
It intensifies your negative thought
The less you let others know how you feel, the more likely you are to ruminate and allow your inner critical voice spin in your head.
It thwarts healing
Social contact, soothing hugs, reassuring voices, eye-contact from someone you love
It delays treatment
You may hope that this goes away on its own, but if you wait too long, your symptoms may become harder to treat.
It perpetuates stigma
By retreating, you paradoxically maintain the value of not disclosing, thereby enabling healthcare providers to get away with not asking the right questions and not taking the appropriate steps.
It is not being true to yourself
You owe it to yourself to acknowledge what is going on and find the courage to ask for help from people you trust.
It establishes a bad precedence for your marriage
If you are not good at communicating how you really feel, it’s time to learn now. Your marriage will prosper in the long run.
It heightens your mistaken belief that you are helpless, no one can help you, and that you’re alone in this battle.